In August 2005, in Bremer v. Gutierrez, C.A. No. 1:03CV01338, (D.D.C. 2005), a District of Columbia federal jury awarded $3 million to Lisa Bremer, a disabled federal employee, who worked at the Department of Commerce until the department revoked her right to telecommute. Ms. Bremer, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991, worked successfully from home for eight years as a federal lawyer at Commerce by working from home two days a week. During that time, Ms. Bremer was consistently rated “outstanding” and received numerous performance awards. The jury found for the plaintiff on her claim that the department failed to provide her a reasonable accommodation required by law when the department revoked Ms. Bremer’s accommodation. Under the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, the award was reduced to $300,000.
After the trial, the Department of Commerce filed a motion for judgment “as a matter of law” which is a motion for the judge to throw out the jury’s verdict and to rule that there were insufficient facts in the record for the jury to conclude that the Department of Commerce violated Ms. Bremer’s rights to reasonable accommodation as a disabled employee. On December 2, 2005, the court rejected the department’s motion.
In the facts of this case, on the advice of her doctors, Ms. Bremer never returned to work after the Commerce Department sent Ms. Bremer a letter which stated that she would no longer receive her reasonable accommodations – most notably telecommuting two days a week. In its motion to the district court judge, the department argued that, since Ms, Bremer never returned to work after receiving this letter, her accommodations really had not been taken away because she never worked a day without them. According to the Department of Commerce’s motion, Ms. Bremer simply “abandoned her position” and prevented the department from making any decisions adverse to her. The judge dismissed this argument. The judge held that the jury had been presented with ample argument about what the letter to Ms. Bremer “meant what it said,” i.e., whether it said her accommodations were revoked or whether it said the department was willing to continue discussing her accommodations, and found in Ms. Bremer’s favor. The jury’s verdict “will not be disturbed” the judge concluded.
Still to be resolved in this case are issues related to Ms. Bremer’s entitlement to front and back pay for having to retire on disability due to the Commerce Department’s violation of the Rehabilitation Act when it failed to accommodate her.
Ms. Bremer was represented by Passman & Kaplan founding partner Joseph V. Kaplan.
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